Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them.
A metaphor for our walk with God that I relate to well, is that of being on a journey. The phase in the journey of sanctification or becoming like Christ doesn’t have set formulas and routes but is a journey that follows the steps and person of Jesus for our personal transformation. That transformation involves a change of behaviour which is important but the greater change is that of our motives or inner passions.
In order to develop our spirituality and see transformation take place, we need to journey with others. We are called into the body of Christ and not to be independent islands. David Benner, Professor of psychology & spirituality believes that ‘no one can make any real progress on this journey alone.’ He goes on to say, ‘We need companions on the Christian journey because the deep knowing of both self and God demands deep knowing of and being known by others… Intimate relationships with others prepares us for intimacy with God.’
Jesus knew the importance of developing relationships with his family, his disciples and the multitudes. But in order to maintain a right pace of life, he had to create boundaries and establish how he was going to spend his time with these different categories of people.
The diagram is the relational grid of Jesus’ life. He had a passion for developing twelve men and a number of women who were a part of his travelling band. He spent huge amounts of time with them. Travelling from town to town, they were in continual conversation together. They stayed in lodgings together on their outreaches, they debriefed together, they ate together, they were often in one another’s company 24/7. His task was to preach the kingdom of God around Israel, train up twelve men and go to the cross. It was clear and he prioritised his time to see those passions come about. From his disciples, he spent more time with Peter, James and john, and of those, John seemed to hold a special place. As the oldest son, it was part of Jesus’ responsibility to look after his mother and this he did to his dying day. His disciples must have spent time with the family of Jesus, and John in the process had become close to Mary. It was John, his closest disciple that he asked to look after Mary at his crucifixion.
Over the course of his ministry he would visit Bethany, where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. We aren’t told how they met but they enjoyed time with Jesus and opened their home to him for rest and refreshment away from the ministry team and a love for each other developed.
Jesus would often disappear from the busyness and community. He had good reason – he wanted to talk to his father. He spent much time listening, sharing and being resourced by his father for the mission that was at hand. He found a quiet place for his inner most being to be renewed and to spend time in intimacy. If Jesus needed such time, how much more so do we.
Jesus continually spurred on his disciples to discern God’s presence and respond to him in loving surrender and service. In John 15 he speaks to his disciples and calls them friends. They had become what David Benner calls ‘sacred companions.’ We all need them. God’s plan is that we grow in relationship with others in the body. We spur one another on to love and good deeds. We encourage one another to live and love like Jesus.
As we look at our lives, we too will have different categories of people that we share our lives with to different extents. As I look at my Facebook, I see I have 1,265 friends. Lucky me! Some of those are real friends, others would be more acquaintances. I spend more time on smaller secret Facebook groups – one with my family and others with small groups of ministry leaders, that I communicate with on a regular basis. Facebook of course isn’t the place to be intimate – its useful to keep up to date and hear the latest news but it’s not the place for really sharing with transparency and openness. It’s just not an appropriate forum to do that. We still need the face to face and the small group or individuals to connect with, in order to go deep and share our hearts. For those on the field in remote or sensitive locations, face to face might not be possible for periods of time. In these circumstances, we have to trust in God’s grace to sustain us and have a second-best option of using skype or some other means of internet connection. However, the majority of us have much opportunity to build peer relationships that are mutually meaningful.
Who do you have in your life with whom you can engage in the following kind of relationships?
I believe Jesus is giving us the opportunity of discerning the right people for our lives. Some people in our lives can be charming, fun and even say nice things to us but perhaps add nothing to us that is virtuous and in fact sometimes move us towards passivity. Here is a test to apply to our friendships that John Ortberg suggests: When I am with this person, or these people, do they move me toward or away from my best self. (The self that is real, aware of my brokenness and pursuing a depth of relationship with God)
Let’s take a look at five important kinds of relationship and how they help develop us as leaders. These can overlap and often do, but to grow effectively we need them all.
- Anam Cara or true friend:In Celtic Spiritual tradition, it is believed that when you connect with another person and become completely open and trusting with that individual, your two souls begin to flow together.Your ‘Anam Cara’ always accepts you as you truly are and is willing to be honest and share insights into your blind spots. This is someone you love enough to share your hidden life – thoughts, emotions, failures, doubts and sins. The Celts believed that forming this kind of friendship would help you to awaken your awareness of your own nature and experience the joys of others. When you are blessed with an Anam Cara, the Irish believe, you have arrived at that most sacred place: home.”A peer or spouse can be this person in your life – a soul friend, a spiritual friend, a best friend – someone that knows you through and through, on your good and bad days and is committed to you to be your greatest fan. This is a privilege and a gift.
I am blessed to have a wife like this. She is a companion that I can pray about anything with, share openly what is going on in my heart, worship with, teach with, eat with, holiday with, grandparent with and the list goes on. This is possible for us all with a friend or spouse – take opportunity to move your friendship deeper every year. There is no limit to its growth.
- Spiritual companion:We are on a journey on the upward call of God.There are special people along the way that partner with us in going deeper with the Lord. They listen, pray and share their journeys of how God is speaking to them and how they in turn are responding to God. Together they spur one another on to love God in ever deeper ways. House groups, small processing groups, leadership teams, groups of elders, all kinds of peer groups can move into this kind of depth of relationship together.I meet up with a friend for coffee whenever we are both in town. He is always a stimulus to my faith and we talk about the current things we are processing and thinking about. Over the years I have always looked for someone that I can meet up with in this way. My journey has been enriched and encouraged through these spiritual companions.
- Spiritual father or mother:There comes times in our lives where we need someone who has gone before and has words to affirm and encourage us, listen to our story and offer wisdom for our future. These are leaders of influence, people who we respect and whose lives are models for us. They can speak into our ministry, family and personal lives. We all need those who are older and wiser and who help to bring calm and hope to our hearts. These people generally don’t come offering their services with an application to sign up. We recognise people whom we respect and approach them for their willingness to give us some time. It may be very occasional get togethers but these people of influence can give shape to our lives and help us at important times in our lives.I can’t underline how important these relationships have been to me. Rite and I have had several people over the years that have spoken into our family and ministry lives and given us the perspective and support that we have so needed. I have also given time to others for this kind of input.
- Accountability partner in ministry: No matter how young or old we are, we are not meant to be on our own when it comes to decision making and direction. There is a tendency toward independence with apostolic and prophetic gifts and especially in a pioneer task oriented mission like YWAM. Others with more experience and similar or differing gifts and personalities are able to give perspective and wise counsel to us for ongoing effective and fruitful ministry.For over ten years I enjoyed the growth of life and ministry through a peer group of leaders in Scotland. We met monthly and prayed, pastored, prophesied and played together. We learned so much from one another and still meet occasionally to continue to spur one another on. More recently I reach out to members on our team for input and have established an advisory board for accountability.
- Counsellor, mentor, coach and/or spiritual director: As we discover issues arising in our hearts, in our attitudes and in our behaviour, we recognise our need of counselling to move us closer toward our goal of wholeness. There are also aspects of our life that require input from others. Whatever the job, the skill, the character quality or area of growth that we want to learn, there are mentors to help us. Whatever decisions and problems we face, there are coaches there to help us process and work through our thinking process for good resolution and action. Whatever the longing in spiritual growth, there is spiritual direction available from those trained to sit with you and help you find the Lord in new depth. All of these gifts of people will bring fresh motivation to you, to press in and learn and grow.
I have enjoyed all these relationships over the years and right now have been enjoying spiritual direction for the past 8 months.
We were born for these kinds of relationships and it’s as we live in these relationships that the world will know that we are true believers. Who are people in these categories in your life? Take some time to pray for the right people to help give shape to your life, and of course, be open for how you can be involved in relationships to serve others.
Until next month